Everyone has moments that define their lives. Some are minor, and shape a person’s development over a lifetime. Some are major, and can radically alter the trajectory of one’s life in an instant.
Take Bruce Wayne, for example (the fictional alter-ego of Batman). As a boy, he appears to be set for life. He is born to rich, popular parents, and lacks nothing… until the night a gunman robs and kills his parents.
In one instant, the wheels are set in motion and Bruce’s life is transformed to accomplish a single purpose: Justice!
And if Bruce were real, I would want to ask him one question:
“Do you know how to forgive?”
Why would I ask him that? We cheer for Batman, we admire his cunning… his technology… his strength. And bad guys need to be put in their place, right?
Life in the Dark
All true! But look at Bruce’s life. Bruce is lonely and isolated. (Batman lives in a cave for Pete’s sake). Bruce does not know peace, nor have time to appreciate beauty, even though there are people in his life that afford him the opportunity, if he would notice.
And look at the lives of Gotham City residents. They live in fear and darkness. Some even live in fear and distrust of Batman… the one who’s trying to help. But even if the crime rate goes down because of Batman, it’s only because of the fear factor. Crime goes down… fear goes up.
What’s wrong with this picture?
I think Bruce/Batman walks a fine line between justice and revenge.
Life of Revenge
Is this a big deal? It should be, especially for anyone who follows Jesus!
Look a the origin of the word “revenge:”
To avenge is “to get revenge” or “to take vengeance”; it suggests the administration of just punishment for a criminal or immoral act. Revenge seems to stress the idea of retaliation a bit more strongly and implies real hatred as its motivation.
“The Columbia Guide to Standard American English,” 1993
Perhaps the reason Bruce’s life is so dark and isolated is because of his ultimate motivation. And perhaps his motivation impacts the citizens with whom he lives.
What if there was…
“Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the LORD.” (Rom 12:19 NLT)
Why does Paul command us to leave revenge to God? Maybe it’s because God is the only one who can “administrate just punishment for immoral acts” with real love as the motivation; not hatred.
And where would that leave Bruce/Batman?
Proactive vs. Reactive
The combination of hate and justice is always reactive. In other words, Batman has to wait for evil to occur before he can spring into action.
What if “Bruce” were proactive? What if he sponsored community-building initiatives that helped people learn to live with one another? And what if Gotham City became a city of light where people knew their neighbors… and lived in love instead of fear? Or said another way, what if crime went down because it never happened in the first place?
What if Gotham City were our city?
We don’t have to wait and react… we can proactively administer grace.
“Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Pet 4:10 NIV)
A final word
I don’t want to leave anyone with the impression that I’m against justice… or against those who serve and protect us daily in the real world. I’ve seen too much of the world to be so naive as to believe everyone will simply stop doing evil and “all get along.”
I thank God regularly for those who are willing to stand between everyday people and those who would do them harm.
But I also wonder: what does justice look like motivated by love, versus justice motivated by hatred? And I can’t wait to hear how this might look where you live… from parents to police… from classrooms to courtrooms!